The departure of Turkey’s Abdulhamid Han drilling vessel for the Eastern Mediterranean has alerted Nicosia, with officials waiting for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to announce the ship’s destination.
In a tension-raising move, Turkey will resume gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea somewhere off Cyprus, with Turkey’s President sending off the ship during an event on Tuesday at the Mersin Port.
Ankara has long been encroaching into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, where energy exploration is licensed to international companies.
However, it is still unclear where the Turkish drilling will occur.
Political analysts expect the ship to head for Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone gas fields, as Ankara disputes the Republic’s right to exploit its EEZ.
So far, the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPAO) has sent drillships to engage in activities where extensive exploration has taken place.
This could include any area east of the 28th meridian (south of Rhodes and further east), with Cyprus’s west and north as potential targets.
The sea areas delimited between Greece and Egypt or included in the so-called Turkey-Libya Memorandum are less likely.
Any movement west or east of the 28th meridian will be perceived as a serious escalation by Turkey, as it will challenge either Greece or Cyprus’ sovereignty – as it has done before
The most likely target will be north of Cyprus, either in an area belonging to Turkey or in the so-called “continental shelf” of the breakaway state in the Turkish-occupied north.
In this case, Abdulhamid Han’s activities could extend to the area around the Karpas Peninsula.
A second scenario sees the vessel moving towards Block 6 within the Republic’s delimited EEZ, where the Italian French Eni-Total consortium is currently drilling.
Blocks 4 and 5 are also possible targets, as is Block 3.
Turkey’s latest move is another challenge to the Republic’s right to search for energy resources.
Tensions have also increased between NATO members Greece and Turkey over the status of the Aegean islands and airspace violations.
Ankara accused Athens of secretly setting up military bases on the islands.
In March, Erdogan cut diplomatic ties with the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for opposing the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey during a visit to the United States.
Greek authorities are also in “full readiness” for the drilling vessel.
They have already recorded two supply ships and two auxiliary ships of the Turkish navy docking where the Abdulhamid Han is anchored.
Athens, however, has signalled it will not accept any challenge to its sovereign rights and has made the situation known to its allies, who have made supportive statements.
In the past, the European Council called on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in the Eastern Mediterranean in breach of international law.
Brussels has also imposed limited sanctions on Turkey for its previous actions in the East Med.